The Chancellor claimed he will “pay down the national debt” even though his plans are for the debt to keep increasing in cash terms through 2018/19. Yes, the forecast is for it to fall as a share of GDP – but that hasn’t happened yet.
Osborne’s debt plan remains way bigger than the Alistair Darling plan he roundly denounced. A penny off a pint doesn’t cut it. There was little or no improvement in the growth forecasts in the Budget. Claiming Britain is “walking tall” again seems a bit of an exaggeration given it is currently only the 15th fastest growing country in Europe.
Never has the gap between rhetoric and reality been so great suggested Ed Miliband, in his well-crafted and thoughtful reply, which seems about right. Miliband noted strikingly that there are more people on zero-hours contracts than the population of Glasgow, Leeds and Cardiff put together. The Leader of the Opposition did extremely well in his response to a Budget he hadn’t seen in advance.
Of course there was still no explanation where the massive proposed cuts would fall – police, defence, social care, local government or the NHS? Plus the inevitable rise in VAT. Osborne said that the Budget would take Britain “one more big step on the road from austerity to prosperity.” That step seems to me to be backwards rather than forwards.
Claiming “we are all in this together” was also laughable given how much the disadvantaged have suffered. Youth unemployment is down, the Chancellor claimed, when the Office for National Statistics made clear that it was actually up.
There was no mention of the unprecedented collapse in real wages. For the first time ever workers, in real terms, are earning less at the end of a parliament than at the start.
Hopefully, this was Osborne’s last Budget. It’s time for a change.
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